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Life Through the Big Screen Podcast

Check out season 1 of my new podcast, Life Through the Big Screen. Don’t forget to download the episodes so they’re in your playlist to listen to.

Life Through the Big Screen is a show where I invite guests from all walks of life to discuss their favorite movie with me and from there we talk about deeper things such as religion, politics, and modern culture. You won’t want to miss this one!

Click here to be taken to Apple Podcasts.

It’s also available in any other podcast platform.

Iron Will

Hey kids,

It’s been snowing here in #louisvilleky, and your mom has been having bad dreams, so I put in a lighthearted movie for her to fall asleep to. It’s one of her childhood favorites. I remember seeing this in the theaters and before going in, my sister saw the poster and said, “This isn’t another one of those sad movies where the dog dies at the end, is it?” Which is weird, because I don’t know any other movie she would have seen where that happens, except Old Yeller. Not like Old Yeller was a popular trend.

This movie is about a boy who competes in a sled-dog race in 1917 in order to win $10,000.

Anyway, this movie came out in the early 90’s and I believe is part of the propaganda that infiltrated impressionable young American minds back then: If you want something bad enough, you’ll get it. That’s what the dad says to his son in this movie, and that’s nothing you’ll ever hear me tell you, because that’s a lie.

Sure, hard work and dedication are important virtues, but there’s something that’s left out of that equation if you want success: luck, the right connections, timing, natural charisma, more luck, more of the right connections, more perfect timing, squashing the competion, more natural charisma, and money. You need lots of money to make lots of money. And let’s be honest, most of those things are achieved by lying, cheating, and stealing.

Plumbers and Amazon delivery drivers and janitors have an abundance of good work ethic and dedication. Fortunately for them, they’ve found success in other areas of life, such as love and their hobbies and friends. Or so I hope. No wonder Jesus blesses the lowly.

I was a casualty of this want-it-bad-enough-and-you’ll-get-it mindset and that all you need is hard work and dedication. But after many years of trying to publish my books, or get promoted at my jobs, I finally had to realize that this whole idea of having an “iron will” – this idea of, “If you want it bad enough, you’ll get it” – is a bunch of bull crap.

I’m not trying to be cynical or dampen your spirits. I’m just stating the truth. Katherine, when you were a baby, I’d sing all sort of songs to you, and I remember changing the lyrics if a song stated you can grow up and be anything you want to be. When I was in school, we were told that we could be astronauts if we wanted to be. Do you know how many people have gone to space? Only three people have reached sub-orbital flight, and only twenty-four people have traveled beyond low Earth orbit, and only twelve people have walked on the moon. That’s not mentioning the eighteen people who have either died in space or died preparing to go there.

Think about all the other men that competed in this race. Clearly the bald Russian guy wanted to win more than our ol’ friend Iron Will, because he was willing to kill people to get it. History is fraught with losers, and the headlines are only about the winners.

(You want a tremendous alternative to this movie? Re-watch Cool Runnings. That movie is solid, honest, and more historically accurate.)

Sadly, the world is much more complicated than just wanting something and then getting it. It can happen, but there are lots of obstacles to hurdle, and in the end, you’ve got to be able to answer to yourself if it’s all really worth it.

Want to know what I heard our pastor Kevin Jamison say in church a few months ago? Keep in mind, I’d spent my whole life being told to change the world, make a difference, blah, blah, blah. I thought that by publishing my books, I’d become a best-selling author and our lives would be set forever. Then our pastor quoted a verse I’d never heard preached before: “Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands…” That’s Paul from 1 Thessalonians 4:11. When I heard that, I suddenly felt more freedom than I’d ever felt in my life. All that pressure to make lots of money and change the world lifted and I was finally able to just relax. It was shortly after hearing this that I surrendered to God, or better put, God saved me.

But back to the movie. You’ll say, “Dad, this movie is based on a true story.” Wrong again. It’s a real dog-sledding race that happened, but everything else is fictional. You know who the main actor is, though? Neither do I. He’s a whiny brat in the movie, and I couldn’t cheer for him. He acted best when he was speaking to very boring dogs. He’s almost as bad as Jake Lloyd in Phantom Menace. Kevin Spacey was the only saving grace in this movie, really.

You kids watched the last half-hour of this with your mom and me, so I think you got the gist of it. It’s a typical Disney drama from the nineties. I’m wagering that White Fang is going to hold up much better. I’ll probably show that to you guys this weekend, because I have really fond memories of that movie.

And maybe I’ll have a more optimistic lesson to teach you from it.

Flatliners

Hey kids,

This movie kinda sucks, and you’ll forget about it the moment it’s over, but I wanted to take this moment to talk to you a little bit about death.

I really do like the idea that this movie proposes: a group of medical students obsessed with gathering data about what lies beyond life.

Now I’ll say this for the film: a lesser movie would have these medical students kidnapping unwilling victims and flatlining them in order to bring them back and hear the victims’ death experience. But this movie focuses on the five med students sacrificing themselves for the experience, trusting their colleagues to bring them back to life by jump-starting their hearts. Not sure how medically accurate this is.

In the movie, each person has a different experience once they’ve died – all of them being haunting memories of defining moments in their lives. One of my problems is this: how often are these memories meant to be replayed? For eternity? Who determines what memories we’re to relive in the afterlife? I think I’d sooner believe that our brains shut off and it goes dark.

That’s only if I didn’t believe in a God who created us as souls to live forever. But I’ll get back to that in a minute.

For a long time I’ve been fascinated with the idea of what our last moments are like on earth. Like, does everyone have their life flash before their eyes? Do we see the Grim Reaper, or an angel, perhaps? It’s like really wanting to know, but not being willing to try it out for myself. Like, I want to know what it’s like to get shot and have a bullet embedded in my body, but I don’t want to actually go through with it.

Anyway, I’ve always had this concept in my mind that we have a bar and when that bar is filled all the way up, that’s when our life is over. All of our bars are the same size, the only difference is how fast that line moves from one end to the other. For a baby who dies, that bar just goes blip! and it’s filled in an instant. For someone who lives to be a hundred and seven, that line moves very slowly.

But let’s personalize it. When I think of my bar, I’m pretty certain mine is past the halfway point. The only question now is, how close is it to the end? As for your bars, I hope the line is still at the very beginning because I want you both to live long, full lives.

But if you believe there is a God who has ordained it all and is in charge of everything, we don’t have to worry about when we’ll die, because he already knows the day and time. And thank God he doesn’t tell us when that is. Then we’d just be dreading that day and growing more and more fearful. (On the other hand, I wouldn’t be so scared of sledding, and maybe you guys would be more willing to go on roller coasters with me, but what do I know?)

Speaking of roller coasters, I remember when I was afraid of going on them, I’d feel a little better if there were young kids going on before me. Then when they got off before I boarded, I’d think, “Well, they survived. Maybe I’ll be alright, too.” Well, death doesn’t work that way. Sadly, throughout all of history, children have been dying in various ways, many in more horrific ways than I’ll likely experience, but that didn’t used to make me feel any better about dying.

I theorize that most people who have refused to give their lives to God are terrified of dying, and they may not even realize it until they lie in bed at night, alone in the dark, and their thoughts start to wander. I was in that position for a long time. Even as a kid I knew my afterlife was a gamble between a good one and somewhat of an eternal dumpster fire.

But since surrendering to God a few months ago and realizing that nothing I do will determine where I spend eternity, that it’s all based off of God’s grace, I’ve been freed of the fear of death. I’m actually okay with dying now. I just want to live a life that Jesus would be proud of – that’s my only real struggle right now, because I still have so many sins I’ve yet to repent from.

The point is, it’s okay to wonder about death, and it’s natural to feel a little afraid. But don’t obsess over it. Live your life full and well. Make sure you’re right with God, above all else. That’s the main thing. Mom and I can’t do that for you. You’re never going to be perfect in God’s eyes, but all that matters is that you’re forgiven by him. And all you have to do is ask him for it, and daily live in appreciation of his forgiveness. I’m still trying to figure it out, even as I write this. But I do know this: When it’s dark out and you’re in bed and thinking about death, and maybe a little afraid, just remember that Jesus defeated it. He died – he got on that roller coaster before us, and he did come back to tell us that it’s alright, as long as we get on that ride with him.

As for the movie Flatliners, skip it. You’re not missing much. One star, simply because the premise is fascinating. It just doesn’t deliver.

Movie Review: Ransom

Hey kids, 

There’s a few things going on here with this movie. First off, it’s got Mel Gibson in it. Despite all the people saying how bad of a person he is or whatever, this man is one of the greatest actors of all time. (Aren’t we all bad people in some way or another? Your attitude on a particular day doesn’t mean the picture you drew suddenly becomes ugly, does it?) The way he shows such a wide range of emotion in his eyes and facial expressions is unparalleled. Not only is he incredible with charging a scene with extreme intensity, he’s also really funny (see Maverick and the Lethal Weapon franchise). 

Secondly, this movie is directed by a guy named Ron Howard. My dad claims he used to coach him in Little League and they called him Opie, the name of his character in the Andy Griffith Show, a show that even I’m too young to remember. Ron Howard has made some really good films which you’ll be watching with me soon enough, like Apollo 13 and Cinderella Man. His movies tend to be on the lighter side, but this is easily his darkest movie to date. 

My parents took me to see this when I was 12. I don’t know how I didn’t have nightmares from seeing the boy handcuffed to the bed and crying out for food in the spare room of a dumpy home crawling with criminals who want to kill him. 

But this quickly became one of my favorite crime movies of all time. This movie takes about 12 minutes to set up, then from there all the way to the final frame, it doesn’t slow down for even a fraction of a second. It runs on all cylinders like a vehicle without brakes, but driven expertly by a skilled driver. 

What’s it about? Simply put: a father (Mel Gibson) is just trying to get his kidnapped son back. Dad tip: If you can sum up an action movie in one sentence like that, it usually means it’s going to be good. 

And the bad guy – I don’t want to give away who it is, because the reveal is too juicy and mind-blowing, but he is creepy as hell! You know when I just randomly stare off into space with wide, uncaring eyes, just to get someone’s attention? I’m imitating the bad guy in this movie. He is so good – as a bad guy. 

In every movie Mel Gibson was in from 1987 to 2000, he’s at the top of his game, but this just might be his ultimate best, because I feel his frustration and his pain and fear. He’s not a super cop here – he’s just a scared dad trying to get his son back. 

It’s how I would react if one of you were kidnapped. I’d do anything – ANYTHING – to get you back. Kind of like God, when Satan kidnapps us, or leads us into a lifestyle of sin (I’ve been there a lot, unfortunately). I believe God is always working on our behalf. We may not feel like it. We may feel like Sean, the kid in this movie, tied up, starving, blindfolded, forgotten. But does his dad ever stop fighting for him? Does his mom ever stop worrying? No. Nothing matters to them but getting Sean back. Nothing matters to God but you coming back to him so that he can forgive you for whatever you might have done, and he can restore you and comfort you, and build you back up to who you were meant to be. 

I’m not going to give this movie away, and you better not do any research beyond this before seeing it, because the constant twists and turns are what make the experience so enjoyable. I’ve seen this movie maybe 15 times, and I still found myself holding my breath for a lot of it when I watched it the other night. 

I consider this a very near perfect movie except for a brief moment when Mel Gibson suddenly turns into an action hero at the end. But the final fight is really short, which I enjoy, because even in the best action movie, I don’t particularly enjoy drawn-out end fight scenes. 

This movie is perfect in casting, acting, scripting, directing, everything. Even James Newton Howard’s score, though subtle, is very enjoyable and sticks with you. And I tried to find flaws, but couldn’t. There’s a loophole here and there, but nothing to bemoan. I especially love that Gibson’s character is sketchy and imperfect. In another story about his life, he would have been the bad guy. Ransom is layered, but simple. Suspenseful, yet grounded. 

I saw this when I was 12 years old. I didn’t know Mel Gibson by name then, but I remember recognizing his talent, and being riveted by the entire movie. This movie is pretty rough with its treatment of the 12 year old boy, and there’s a lot more blood than I remembered, but honestly kids, I might let you watch this with me when you’re 13. Your mom would probably say 16 or 18. So maybe we can send her to Florida when you’re 14 and we can watch it together then. 

I give Ransom a perfect 5. It’s easily one of my favorite movies of all time. Don’t miss this one. 

New Format: Movie Reviews for My Kids. A Reliable Source for What to Watch, What to Avoid, and What to Learn from the Movies I Love.

You’ve probably noticed that I’ve been posting a movie review each day on my Facebook wall. I’m going to bare my soul a little bit today, and introduce a new format. If my brief film commentaries annoy you or make your wall feel cluttered, feel free to block me or delete me or whatever it is you do to offensive people. 

Some kids like sports, some join the band, others collect things. Me? It’s always been movies. I lucked out because I don’t think my parents understood the rating system, so they took me to see everything at a young age. Sometimes I preferred watching the latest Disney animated movie, so I’d go watch that while my parents were in a different theater (how glorious times were!). They’d instruct me to just come find them when my movie was over. Usually this was to my benefit, because I’d still get to catch the second half of Face/Off when Hercules was over. But other times, it didn’t play out as well. I still remember walking into Schindler’s List just 70 minutes into it when The Nightmare Before Christmas was over. And if you know Schindler’s List, the true horrors start about 70 minutes in. That scene with all the naked Jewish women in the shower still haunts me. 

Anyway, there were a lot of movies that I saw with my parents, and I thank them for that. At an early age I was exposed to Mel Gibson, Bruce Willis, and Kevin Bacon, to name a few. But my parents had a very specific kind of movie that they isolated themselves to: mostly crime movies. Not cult favorites such as Pulp Fiction. Movies about cops, not sci-fi like Alien. Nothing fantastical. Those, I had to discover on my own, as much as I love crime and cop movies. 

You can point at nearly any movie and I’ll tell you what theater I saw it at and who I saw it with. I can even tell you what the weather was like outside in several instances. Most of my memories revolve around movies. Nearly any real-life memory revolves around the last film I watched or what was being discussed at the time. I can recall almost every conversation with friends and family members about movies. 

Not every movie is good, but almost every memory I have about seeing them is good. Movies of almost any kind bring me peace and comfort. They transport me to different stages of my life. 

I’m not sure why I’m like this. Though I haven’t shown Fargo or Deadpool to my kids, I quote that stuff to them all the time. They know how excited I am to show them Jurassic Park and introduce them to the MCU. 

But I’m probably not going to live long enough to show them a lot of my favorites when they come of age (one just turned seven and the other is about to turn eight). I have had health problems with my heart since birth. I wasn’t supposed to live to age 37, much less, age 7. I guess I’ve been on borrowed time for 30 years. 

Sadly, I’ve wasted all those thirty years. Not with movies – I don’t regret that for a minute – but with not really believing in the Bible and in God. I was raised a Christian, so I was told I was a Christian from the start. Sure, I prayed the sinner’s prayer, but I believed I was getting into heaven on those merits alone. I think that’s a big mistake. I never actually came to a true understanding of God’s sacrifice for me until recently. In fact, for the last decade or so, I’d be in active rebellion against God, and openly hated him. It was my wife’s steadfast faith that helped influence me to surrender and admit God is bigger and smarter than me. Anc that he loves me despite my failings. 

Since reaching that conclusion, I’m not afraid of dying. I hate that I keep sinning, and can’t seem to stop, but I’m grateful for God’s forgiveness, and I hope he can help make me a little better before I stand before him. It could be soon, but it could also be in another 20-30 years. But I’m not concerned about that, because I’m confident that he knows the precise day and time. 

The new format going forward is going to be me talking about movies to my kids. Mostly movies they haven’t seen yet. I’ll tell them what to watch, what to skip, and I want to be a good dad by pointing out any connections to the Bible I may see. Movies can serve as parables sometimes. I know I’ve been moved, spiritually, by the power of movies.

So starting tomorrow I’m going to talk about films as though I’m telling my kids about them. Like Michael Keaton speaking to his camcorder to his unborn son in My Life. I’ll let them know what I think about it, and if they need to make it a priority to watch it or not, and when I think it’d be appropriate for them. Who knows? This format might not work, and I’ll change it again in a week. But we’ll see.

Why post these on Facebook? A couple of reasons: talking about movies is a good outlet for me. I love having discussions about cinema with people. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the movies I bring up. Also, whatever you put online sticks forever, right? So maybe one day long after I’m gone, my kids will find value in scrolling through my wall and learning about what their dad loved. So, be on the lookout for tomorrow’s post where I plan on telling my kids about one of my favorite crime movies of all time.